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Sen. Smith, medical professionals say governor's race will determine future of health care for women

'This election is the election of my career,' one doctor said at an event on Wednesday in Rochester.

Sen. Tina Smith
U.S. Sen. Tina Smith speaks during a press conference on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, at Gray Duck Theater in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — With less than a week before the midterm elections, U.S. Democratic Sen. Tina Smith and Rochester area medical professionals framed the race as a choice between a Democratic Party that has voted to support affordable, accessible health care and a GOP Party that has, in many cases, opposed such measures.

Many of the comments focused on the state’s gubernatorial race between DFL Gov. Tim Walz and GOP nominee Scott Jensen. Smith and area doctors described the race as a choice between a DFL incumbent “who followed the science” and kept the state’s death rate during the COVID-19 pandemic the lowest in the Midwest and a GOP challenger “who has spread misinformation” about the virus.

Dr. Mark Liebow, a Rochester physician and DFL activist, told a lobby filled with people at the Gray Duck Theater that the COVID-19 pandemic was the most profound health care crisis the country has faced in a century, and Gov. Walz and his team provided “leadership in uncertain times.”

“The governor made tough but necessary choices to limit the spread of the disease,” Liebow said. “We will never know who didn’t die because of the Walz administration’s efforts — whose parent, whose spouse or whose child (didn't die). That is the challenge of public health.”

As Smith and two doctors took turns at the podium, a group of physicians, nurses and research scientists stood behind the speakers. Outside the theater, about a dozen people held “Jensen” signs and tried to enter the lobby by knocking on the locked door.

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Sen. Tina Smith
Campaigners show up outside a press conference held by U.S. Sen. Tina Smith on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, at Gray Duck Theater in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

DFL supporters contrasted Walz’s record with the comments by Jensen, a former state senator and Chaska physician, who has compared public health measures to limit the spread of the disease as akin to Kristallnacht, when Nazis in Germany torched synagogues and vandalized Jewish homes.

Liebow noted that more than 70% of Minnesotans and 90% of physicians nationwide have been vaccinated against COVID-19, but “not Jensen.”

Walz has led in nearly all polls, but the most recent one showed the race as practically a dead heat.

No GOP candidate for statewide office, including that for governor, has won in Minnesota since 2008. The political races in Minnesota are also taking place against a background of anxiety and fear over the state of the economy and four-decade–high inflation — issues that appear to favor Republicans during a time of Democratic control in Washington DC.

The news conference came less than a week before the Nov. 8 election when voters will vote for governor, state House and Senate races and essentially determine the balance of power in Minnesota.

The Jensen campaign called the DFL event at the Gray Duck an instance of “fear mongering” that is “unfortunately nothing new.”

“However, Dr. Jensen and (lieutenant governor candidate) Matt Birk are meeting face to face with voters in Rochester and across the state, hearing directly from Minnesotans about the issues that matter most to them,” the Jensen statement said.

Sen. Tina Smith
U.S. Sen. Tina Smith speaks with Dr. Melissa Richards before a press conference on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, at Gray Duck Theater in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

When Jensen was seeking the GOP endorsement, he said he would ban abortions. His position has changed as he has sought to appeal to a wider swath of voters. He now says there is nothing he can do about abortion if he were elected governor, since it is a protected constitutional right in the state.

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But area medical professionals said there were many things Jensen could do as governor to curb access to abortion, such as appointing anti-abortion judges to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Dr. Melissa Richards, a Rochester obstetrician-gynecologist, said she doesn’t have to worry about committing a crime in Minnesota because of the state’s constitutional protections — unlike other states where the repeal of Roe v. Wade has forced women to travel outside their state for medical care.

She said the upcoming election will set in motion the kind of health care women can get for their daughters and future generations.

“I can help navigate the next steps in care when a fatal, non-viable birth defect has been diagnosed in a patient's 20-week ultrasound,” Richards said. “I can make sure that she can make medically informed decisions. She is not required to travel two states away to get the care she needs.”

"This election is the election of my career," Richards said.

MORE NEWS CONFERENCE PHOTOS:

Sen. Tina Smith
U.S. Sen. Tina Smith speaks during a press conference on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, at Gray Duck Theater in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
Sen. Tina Smith
U.S. Sen. Tina Smith speaks during a press conference on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, at Gray Duck Theater in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
Sen. Tina Smith
Dr. Mark Liebow speaks alongside U.S. Sen. Tina Smith during a press conference on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, at Gray Duck Theater in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
Sen. Tina Smith
John Robinson, GOP candidate for the Minnesota House District 25B campaigns outside of a press conference held by U.S. Sen. Tina Smith on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, at Gray Duck Theater in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
Sen. Tina Smith
Dr. Melissa Richards speaks alongside U.S. Sen. Tina Smith during a press conference on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, at Gray Duck Theater in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
Sen. Tina Smith
Campaigners show up outside a press conference held by U.S. Sen. Tina Smith on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, at Gray Duck Theater in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
Sen. Tina Smith
Campaigners show up outside a press conference held by U.S. Sen. Tina Smith on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, at Gray Duck Theater in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
Sen. Tina Smith
U.S. Sen. Tina Smith speaks during a press conference on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, at Gray Duck Theater in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

Matthew Stolle has been a Post Bulletin reporter since 2000 and covered many of the beats that make up a newsroom. In his first several years, he covered K-12 education and higher education in Rochester before shifting to politics. He has also been a features writer. Today, Matt jumps from beat to beat, depending on what his editor and the Rochester area are producing in terms of news. Readers can reach Matthew at 507-281-7415 or mstolle@postbulletin.com.
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